Part Twenty-Two - The Final Chapter
Cast away, unneeded anymore, of no use, down and out after so long; the yardbird knows he is a thing of the past. Forsaken for a few more zeros on the profit line. Yea, this old yardbird sang the working class blues in shipyards across this land. In Houston, San Diego, New Orleans, Charleston, Seattle and Tacoma, I have listen and talked to my fellow yardbirds on 13 jobs. The yardbirds have now made the down and out list along with many steelworkers, textile workers and lumberjacks. Don't tell me the pipe dream about working hard as the means to success; too many hard working stiffs have gone down that path, only to be told they ain't wanted anymore.
How can one explain to you the feeling of being discarded after learning a trade and working in that trade for over 20 years? Even for a person who understands the way the system works, you still have the feeling that some how you have failed. You feel beaten down, a humiliating emptiness inside, as you are thrown into the scrap heap of unwanted humanity.
"But master, I can still work, I still have a great understanding of ships, and can still make my pipes do things that you could never image. I never worked a piping system that I was unable to make work, no matter what the obstacles were. Am I really all used up and of no value anymore?"
I am told that industry in the U.S. is changing. The great days of the blue-collar worker are over, they say. But are not ships still sailing upon the ocean? Only the work has moved on to places where labor is far cheaper than mine; where the pesty inspectors are not found; where the employers need not concern themselves with the environment and workers' health and safety. If those yardbirds of the lands where the work is now found get together and organize, they too will be discarded, as the work will move on again. This is what the employers call the "new global economy."
Where are all the so-called environmentalists, I ask? Do they not understand the new reality of the maritime industry? Over 90% of all maritime accidents involve the ships with flags of convenience. This new trend is greatly increasing the dangers to the environment. Whereas their voices should be raised in outrage, but only silence can be heard; for in their classist arrogance they don't even know there is a problem.
Where are all the human rights activists? Do they not understand that the new reality is a conspiracy to deny basic human rights? The countries where the work moves to are chosen based upon their ability to oppress the people. Whereas their voices should be raised in outrage, but only silence can be heard; for in their classist ignorance they don't even know there is a problem.
Where are all the union activists? Do they not understand that the new reality is a direct attack upon all that the unions have won? The countries where the work is being moved to have weak unions or no unions at all. They know there is a problem, but inaction to great social problems has become a way of life for them. Still they will say, for all to hear, we discarded stiffs have their sympathy!
Some people think I'm a lowlife, a down and out hard life. I push too hard, too fast and ask for too much. Others think I'm a has been; a hard case buried in the past, and a real pain in the ass. Barbaric, some say; uncouth, unfounded, no fun. The beautiful people turn their faces away and pretend I'm not there. The dreamers cast me out of their dreams. The intellectuals refuse to acknowledge my existence. I am nothing more than a reflection of reality; a harshness bred in reality.
Reality, a thing that is much over looked. Living in reality is not a party. It does not have good karma. It ain't cool. It ain't hip. it's not where it's at among the dream seekers and the high-minded crowd.
My life has not been made up of the dreams of a "New Age", of the pleasures of not knowing, and not caring about the real world. My life has been bumming down the road, sleeping under bridges to keep out of the rain. I have known the fruit tramps, wildcat roughnecks, yardbirds and long haul truckers. I have known the hard parts of town where looking where you've been is as important as looking where you are going. I have known the jails and the bull's clubs. I have come to know that real social change will come from these places, and not the colleges or coffee houses. The revolt will come from the oppressed, not out of a book or a classroom discussion.
Crawling down into a forepeak tank of a ship, down three levels, then through oily, muddy limber holes; I hit my head on a pipe unseen, my flashlight falls and goes out. Cold darkness sets in all around me. A chill from the pit of my stomach rises up through out my being. I reach down for my light and find that it still works. Then on through the tank to the point where I must climb the ribs up to the level to remove the valve I seek. On my way up a tingling hits my body and dizziness strikes my brain. Time for but one thought before I pass out and fall... dead air! My co-workers pull me out and I open my eyes to the world. I wonder what is reality; this, or the fantasies of the fools blinded by the illusions of their dreams? How do you get the dreamers to wakeup and smell the foulness of the reality that so many of us are forced to live in?
I have been called a dinosaur by young radicals who believe that any reliance I may have had has long since passed. If this be the truth, then I am a Tyrannosaurus Rex, with nice sharp teeth ready to bite the ass of those that would disregard me. Though I maybe a "displaced" worker, as society likes to call people like me, I am still a rebel worker like so many of my class. I will not go away without a fight, though I am left with only the weapon of my words.